This review spoils the end of Dead Space 3. Turn back now, or forever hold your peace. You have been warned.
Dead Space 3: Awakened taught me a valuable lesson today: beware of taglines. As I revisited Tau Volantis and the CMS Terra Nova, that thought echoed throughout my mind dozens of times while I watched Isaac and Carver lose theirs. According to the DLC’s launch trailer, “The terror never ends.” But was there ever a moment of fear in Dead Space 3 to begin with? Awakened is marketed as containing the scariest piece of the Dead Space puzzle yet, and after the absence of all things horrifying in the main game, I was too ready to believe that assertion. Regrettably, this downloadable epilogue scares buyers with the price instead of the gameplay.
Awakened costs 800 Microsoft Points, and so I ask: What is your time worth? Arguably, the money should not matter if the content meets your entertainment needs. With this overpriced DLC, though, Dead Space 3: Awakened is hard-pressed to find stalwart defenders. The length barely eclipses the hour mark, and yes, that includes the unskippable cutscenes and credits that roll on for upwards of ten minutes. Given such limited time to set up Dead Space 4, the DLC does not pace itself.
Again I ask, was there ever a moment of terror in Dead Space 3?
Isaac and Carver wake up on the surface of Tau Volantis ‒ disoriented but very much alive ‒ after murdering the moon responsible for the Necromorphs’ creation. Although Isaac poses several questions, the story soon loses focus. How did Isaac and Carver survive? Have they actually become Necromorphs? Do Necromorphs still possess their human understanding? Carver brushes these inquiries aside, and having replayed the DLC three times already, it is clear Visceral expects players to do the same.
Instead, the gameplay receives greater attention. Isaac and Carver are quickly roped back into another Necromorph rodeo of claustrophobic encounters, yet there are few jump scares and no tension to speak of, and the results serve to agitate. Tell me, what phrase do the first letters of Dead Space 3’s chapters form? If you know, then you also know that the Necromorph epidemic did not end on Tau Volantis. The developers reintroduce the reanimated corpses as one of the hostile forces ‒ a fact that sullies Dead Space 3’s impact, knowing that Isaac’s previous adventure was made futile from the start.
Consequently, the fighting feels pointless here. While you still dismember waves of Pukers, Spitters, and Brutes, the enemies are notably devoid of novelty. Besides the burlier appearance of the Raptor-like Stalkers, Visceral revives the Pack, the name for the undead children that swarmed Isaac aboard the Sprawl. Eliminating these weaklings rekindles the rare moment where Dead Space gives you power over the situation.
Nothing like the smell of potpourri to mask the stench of decaying limbs.
Players also encounter a new breed of deranged Unitologists. I say “breed” because these religious fanatics have lost all semblance of humanity, taking the apocalyptic idea of Convergence to the extreme. This circle of activists, seeing their bodies as imperfect, seek to rectify that delusion by severing their hands and stitching metal implements to their flesh to better resemble Necromorphs. The psychoticism behind their thinking proves genuinely enthralling, but the developers do nothing to expand on the promise.
These freaks exist as slightly more durable versions of Necromorphs, only attacking during Isaac and Carver’s hallucinations and demanding no unique tactics to defeat. The game cheaps out on any buildup for their sudden appearance, too. They simply show up on the Terra Nova unannounced, having redecorated the cold, abandoned corridors with cultish iconography.
The disappointment emanates from the breakneck momentum with which the DLC moves. The Necromorphs materialize within seconds of the protagonists regaining consciousness, and much like Dead Space 3 proper, nonstop ambushes characterize the gameplay from there. The developers do try to mix up the battles, and whether you find yourself hunted by Stalkers in a blizzard or chased by the invulnerable cult leader, the pleasure of cycling Kinesis and Stasis with your custom weapons remains untainted. However, the aesthetics are more appealing than the stale skirmishes.
You should probably see a dentist about that smile.
You see, Isaac and Carver both succumb to frequent hallucinations now. Isaac’s illusions transport him to an abstract part of his mind filled with Markers, though the ensuing fights are similar to Dead Space 2’s final boss; Carver’s mental turmoil, on the other hand, occurs in the real world. Meanwhile, the Unitologists brainwash Isaac through voices only he can hear, causing a rift to form between him and Carver as they formulate their escape.
That schism is made tangible because of the newly established chemistry between Isaac and Carver. In Dead Space 3, the pair were just survivors of happenstance, completely at odds with each other until Carver’s late-game epiphany. Here they actually play off each other, and you might even call the two friends, judging by their less dickish dialogue. Even so, Isaac wants to keep the Unitologists from reaching Earth, but Carver wants to go home. Unable to have both their ways, the dialogue escalates to conversations where their death threats carry actual weight. Although these verbal battles are a highlight when playing solo, the conversations seem awkward when Isaac and Carver stand side by side nonchalantly.
Dead Space 3: Awakened vomits inelegance. Beyond the publisher’s demands, I see no reason why the DLC was not included with the main game, or saved as the prologue to Dead Space 4, since the developers omit explanations for every question they pose. Did Isaac and Carver actually survive their fight with the moon? Where were the cultists during Dead Space 3? How are they able to toy with people's thoughts? Will gamers that never purchase Awakened be left out of the Dead Space loop? Regardless of the gameplay’s strengths, these discussions prey at the back of your brain like an overly attached Necromorph. Unless you absolutely need more Dead Space in your life, you can skip this love affair.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: March 13, 2013
Number of Players: 1-2 (Campaign)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3